How to Avoid Bed Bugs While Traveling, and What to Do If You Get Them

Sep 9, 2018

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Bed bugs are no joke. In fact, as I type this I’m sitting across from a freshly-tossed hotel bed because a travel companion discovered three welt-like bites on her back — a telltale sign of bed bugs.

The good news is we didn’t find any signs of bugs in our search (but did find a surprising clean mattress under all those linens, so way to go, Hilton Garden Inn), but you can never be too careful. One hitchhiker in your suitcase and it’s game over. I know because I lived to tell the tale. But not without a serious case of PTSD.

And they’re not only menaces when it comes to hotels. We’ve all heard bed bug plane horror stories. So here’s what you need to know about how to spot bed bugs in hotels, and what to do if you get them. Vodka, after all, will only get you so far.

How to Avoid Bed Bugs While Traveling

To avoid bed bugs while traveling, first and foremost check to see if your hotel is on The Bed Bug Registry. You can search by hotel name and city and state. After tossing the room like an FBI raid, I checked out our hotel and sure enough, no reports of bed bugs here. If nothing else, I will sleep a little easier knowing this. That said, it is better to do your research beforehand.

If you’re flying on an airplane, check your seat. Look along seams and in small cracks for any critters. If you’ve never actually seen one before, lucky you, they look like tiny appleseeds. Their bodies are quite round and they are brown in color.

When you check into your hotel room, a quick visual scan is your best defense (not all people who get bitten by bed bugs have a skin reaction, so you could be packing them up in your luggage and have no idea). Bed bugs are nocturnal, so if you are arriving during the day, you likely won’t be able to spot them in the flesh.

So what you want to be on the lookout for instead of actual bugs is bed bug excrement. It looks like tiny little ink blots that a pen might leave. Search the sheets, inside pillow cases and most importantly alongside the seams of the mattress. Looking under the mattress is not a bad idea but be prepared to find a few crumbs here and there — peanuts compared to a bug infestation.

If the database search and visual scans turn up nothing, chances are good you’re in for a bite-free hotel stay. Before you head out to do any exploring, make sure to set up your suitcase on a luggage rack — not the other bed if there is one in the room, or an upholstered piece of furniture like a chair. Remember: Bed bugs hide in soft spots, and using a luggage rack means they can’t climb up the metal legs.

When you get home, wash and dry all of your clothes on high heat. Do a visual inspection of your luggage, looking for the tiny ink-like stains in corners and along seams.

What to Do If You Get Bed Bugs While Traveling

If you spot bed bugs in your room, notify the hotel first and foremost. Bed bugs spread when left unreported; alert the front desk immediately so that they can get an exterminator in there asap.

Your next order of business is getting your money refunded and getting the hell out of there. If the hotel offers to move you to another room, ask to speak to a manager. Chances are if the bugs are in one room, they’ll be in others.

After you’ve booked other accommodations, you’ll want to make sure no bugs are being transported with you to the new location. Find the closest laundromat and dry all clothes and shoes on high heat for at least 20 minutes. If you have a credit card that offers trip protection, call them to find out if they’ll cover the purchase of new luggage since there’s no way to treat large baggage.

Once you get to the new hotel, place the clothes you’ve worn in a plastic trash bag and seal it up until the clothes can be washed. Take a shower. Order a martini. Repeat as necessary until you’re able to fall asleep.

All jokes aside, I can’t stress enough how important it is to be diligent about bed bugs. Even once the bugs themselves are gone, the trauma can stay with you for a while. Taking the time to do your homework ahead of time and when riding an airplane or checking in to a hotel can save you major headaches down the road.

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